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When business leadership feels lonely

As business leaders, every single one of us – from the self-employed to the sole traders, microbusinesses, SMEs and large companies – will face huge challenges throughout our working lives.

You will have started your business full of excitement, passion and enthusiasm for the journey ahead. Everything is going well for a while, progress being made, and then…bang. Something happens.

The majority of issues many leaders have been facing in recent times will be due to COVID-19, but even at other times when problems surface in your business, you most likely tell yourself this is your company, your job, and you need to deal with this yourself. You’re the leader… but it sure can be lonely being a leader in times of distress. People are looking to you as their leader for support and answers, every decision rests on your shoulders and yours alone… and that is a tough place to be.

You may find that you start to retreat into yourself, searching for solutions, emotionally distancing from others whilst you sort it all out, and one day you wake up feeling lost and lonely, despite perhaps being surrounded by so many people, family and friends.

So you retreat even further, embarrassed to share your problems, with that self-critical voice nagging away in your head …everyone else is doing fine, why can’t I do this, I’m such a failure…

Friends and family do their best to help, and they really care for you, yet they just don’t truly understand what you are going through as they have never started their own business. You spend more and more time alone yet are most likely putting on a brave face to everyone else out there, and keep dealing with rejection on a daily basis, adding further to your personal turmoil.

Entrepreneur and one of the Women’s Business Centre team, Lynne Cadenhead, says: “I’ve been there too in the past. Sitting banging my head off my desk, tears streaming down my face, feeling as though I had nowhere to go, no-one to turn to, utterly alone, as the business I had painstakingly built seemed to slowly slip away from me.”

But, like Lynne, if you ever feel lonely in business, you’re not alone in feeling this way! Harvard Business Review (HBR) has reported previously that half of CEOs feel lonely and solo business owners can experience these feelings even more acutely. A 2016 Self Employment Review for the UK Government by Julie Deane of the Cambridge Satchel Company indicated that isolation is one of the biggest challenges faced by business owners, with over 30% suffering from loneliness and all the emotional and physical wellbeing issues that brings.

And yet if loneliness is such a big problem for business owners, why do we ignore it so much and not talk about it? Embarrassment, shame, fear? It’s pretty hard to openly admit that you feel lonely and are struggling. Yet that’s precisely what you need to do.

There is a difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is the joy and benefit of being alone, giving you to time to pause, reflect and think, which as business leaders we can all benefit from. Loneliness however is the pain you suffer from feeling or being alone.

But you’re not alone. There is no need to battle on leading your business in solo-mode feeling lonely. There is even more support than ever available to you right now if you need it. All you need to do is be brave and ask for it. Now that’s leadership!

In the meantime, here’s Lynne’s simple and effective tips to help you overcome Leader’s Loneliness:

    1. Admit to yourself and others that you feel lonely. That takes courage. Be bold and overcome your fear of asking for help. You will feel better once you do, I assure you.
    2. Put a photo on your desk of your family, friends or work colleagues. It’s a simple daily reminder to yourself that you are not alone.
    3. Join online networking and support groups for business owners and entrepreneurs and make sure you interact rather than just read what other people are posting. You can build a personal support group quite quickly and they will understand what you are going through. I’m always amazed at the amount of support people get when they openly admit a little bit of vulnerability (not too much though!).
    4. Share how you feel with trusted friends and family members too. It’s important to complement peer support above with support from family and friends. You may not want to share everything with everyone – I know I only share certain things with certain people! – so choose what you share and who you share it with carefully.
    5. Share as much as you can with your team. You are the leader but shielding them from everything and shouldering the burden entirely on your own is not helpful for either you or them. They too can help.
    6. We may already be getting a bit weary of constant Zoom calls but seeing people when you speak really can help. Think about scheduling regular get togethers so you have something to look forward to.
    7. Get yourself an accountability partner and/or a mentor. I check in with my accountability partner every couple of weeks – she’s really good at keeping me on track re making progress and making sure I’m ok – and I do the same for her.
    8. Collaborate with others on shared projects and/or on sharing advice on challenges you are currently facing. The more you share and help others, the more you will get back, and it can help you to feel less lonely.
    9. Make sure you make enough time for you. It’s not all about work. A stressed, burnt-out, anxious leader cannot lead at her best. Self-care is even more important than ever for you right now. Take time out – it’s all about balance.

If you are suffering from severe and acute feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety and/or depression, please seek professional medical advice as soon as possible.


This article is adapted from a blog by Lynne Cadenhead, which originally appeared on


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Lynne Cadenhead
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